With these simple words in the Prologue of his Gospel, St. John announces the earth-shattering truth of the Incarnation, the mystery of the Word-made-flesh. That is the mystery which we celebrate at Christmas, and which defines everything else we believe and profess about our Christian faith.
In the Glossary of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, the Incarnation is succinctly defined as follows: “By the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity assumed our human nature, taking flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. There is one Person in Jesus, and that is the divine Person of the Son of God. Jesus has two natures, a human one and a divine one.” (p.515)
That is the simple theological definition of the Incarnation, but behind it is a mystery so profound, so all-encompassing, so “game-changing”, that the event and the reality altered not only the history of the world, but also the individual lives of countless millions of human beings over the past 2,00 years. . .including yours and mine.
The Incarnation was first alluded to at the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, when God put Satan, in the form of the serpent, on notice, with these words: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:15) It was then repeatedly prophesied down through the ages by the Old Testament prophets in words such as these from Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”(Isaiah 7:14) And these words from the Prophet Micah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)
Then finally, in the fullness of time, the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, and bring forth a Son and call His name Jesus. Mary consented: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1: 38) And nine months later, in the quiet and obscurity of a manger in the tiny village of Bethlehem, the Son of God and Savior of the world was born a helpless baby.
Again, the Catechism says this of that event:
“The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that He is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. . . Understanding that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine is very important. The Church has consistently defended this teaching against attempts to present one or the other as somehow less. If the Crucifixion and Resurrection were events that involved God only, then we are not saved. If Jesus was not divine, He would have been just another good man whose death and Resurrection would not have saved us. It is necessary to believe that the mystery of the Incarnation means that Jesus was both fully God and fully man.”
Part of the essence of the mystery lies in the fact that we believe while remaining incapable of fully understanding. Even the great 4th to5th century doctor of the Church, St. Jerome, expresses this reality when he writes, “The Word was made flesh, but how He was made flesh, we do not know. The doctrine from God, I have; the science of it, I do not have. I know that the Word was made flesh; how it was done, I do not know.”
￼So even though our finite human minds cannot fully understand the mystery of the Incarnation, let’s remind ourselves this Christmas season to embrace the reality behind it, a reality rooted in and extending from God’s wonderful love for us. . . “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)